Hop aboard the lemon dessert train

Susan Banks
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Lush, lovely, fragrant yellow lemons can be used for many things, as ingredients in both sweet and savory dishes and dressings, in beverages or for a snappy puckish garnish. The juice, the pulp and the zest can be utilized in any number of ways. Is there anything this little vitamin C-packed orb can’t do? And don’t forget, when you are finished with the fruit, drop the remnants down the garbage disposal and run it to freshen up the kitchen.

Pick lemons that are bright yellow, firm and heavy for their size. Fresh lemons will last two to four weeks on the counter and one to two months in the refrigerator, says www.eatbydate.com, making them easy keepers.

California and Florida are the leading producers in the country, according to the Food Network. While there are many cultivated varieties of lemons in commerce, they are usually generically sold. In other words, a lemon is a lemon is a lemon. Unless it’s not.

You might run across Meyer lemons, which are a cross between a lemon and an orange. This variety has become trendy once again as some celebrity chefs, such as Martha Stewart, have embraced them. Meyer lemons are smaller, rounder and sweeter than regular lemons, and they usually show up in stores from December through May.

Whatever type of lemon you find, there is no dearth of ways to make use of them. So grab a bag on your next shopping trip.

Dreamy Lemon Cheesecake

This cake is dense and the crust is very sweet, so a little bit goes a long way. Topped with lemon curd, whipped cream and lemon garnish, it makes a heck of a statement on the holiday table. If you’d like to cut the sweetness, substitute graham crackers for the crushed lemon-filled sandwich cookies. Baking a cheesecake in a water bath cuts down on the cracks on the surface, but make sure you are vigilant about wrapping the pan to keep the water out.

21/2 cups crushed cream-filled lemon sandwich cookies (about 25 cookies)

21/2 tablespoons salted butter, melted

5 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, softened

11/2 cups sugar

2 tablespoons flour

4 large eggs

2 large egg yolks

1 tablespoon lemon zest, plus 5 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice (about 2 lemons)

2 tablespoons heavy cream

1 cup lemon curd

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Wrap outside of a lightly greased 9-inch shiny springform pan in a double layer of heavy-duty foil. Stir together crushed cookies and melted butter in a bowl and press into prepared pan.

Bake until lightly browned, 7 to 8 minutes. Cool on a wire rack until ready to use. Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees.

Beat cream cheese with a heavy-duty mixer on medium speed until creamy, about 5 minutes. Gradually add sugar and flour, beating until smooth. Add eggs, one at a time, and then egg yolks one at a time, beating just until yellow disappears. Stir in lemon zest, lemon juice and heavy cream.

Pour cream cheese mixture over pre-baked crust. Place springform pan in a roasting pan. Add boiling water to reach halfway up sides of pan.

Bake at 325 degrees until center is almost set, but still slightly wobbly, about 1 hour and 10 minutes, up to 1 hour and 20 minutes. Turn oven off and with door partially open, let cake sit in oven for an additional hour.

Remove cheesecake carefully from roasting pan and water bath and place on a wire rack. Cool completely, about 2 hours. Cover with plastic wrap or foil, making sure it doesn’t touch top of cake. Chill 8 to 24 hours.

To serve: Gently run a knife around outer edge of the cheesecake to loosen it from the pan. Remove sides of springform pan. Spread top with 1 cup of lemon curd (recipe follows).

Makes 12 servings.

— Adapted from Southern Living magazine, February 2017

Lemon Curd

It can be used as a topping or filling for desserts, folded into whipped cream or as a luscious spread on Lemon Poppy Seed Bread. It’s easy enough to make and will last up to 2 weeks in the fridge in a airtight container.

1/2 cup salted butter softened

2 cups sugar

4 large eggs

2 large egg yolks

1 tablespoon lemon zest, plus 1 cup fresh juice (about 4 large lemons)

Beat butter and sugar with a mixer on medium speed until blended, about 45 seconds. Add eggs and yolks, one at a time until just blended after each addition. Gradually add lemon juice to butter mixture, beating at low speed just until mixed. Stir in zest. (Mix will look curdled).

Transfer mixture to a heavy 4-quart saucepan and cook, whisking constantly over medium-low heat until mixture thickens and coats the back of a spoon, 14 to 16 minutes.

Transfer curd to a bowl and place plastic wrap directly on warm curd (to prevent film from forming). Chill until firm, about 4 hours. Refrigerate in an airtight container up to 2 weeks.

— Southern Living magazine, February 2017

Lemon Poppy Seed Quick Bread

This bread is easy and delicious. Slather it with cream cheese or lemon curd. Don’t be tempted to skip the glaze; it makes the bread. The loaf can be frozen for up to 3 months.

2 cups flour

1 cup sugar

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 egg, lightly beaten

1 cup milk

1/4 cup vegetable oil

1 tablespoon finely shredded lemon peel

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 tablespoon poppy seeds

Lemon Glaze

2 tablespoons sugar

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 tablespoon butter

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease the bottom and 1/2 inch up the sides of a 8-by-4-by-2-inch loaf pan and set aside. In a large bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt, set aside.

Combine egg, milk, oil, lemon peel, 2 tablespoons lemon juice and the poppy seeds. Add egg mixture all at once to flour mixture and stir until moistened. Batter should be lumpy. Spoon batter into prepared pan, spreading evenly.

Bake for 50 to 55 minutes or until a tester comes out clean. Cool in pan on wire rack for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the glaze. In a small saucepan, combine glaze ingredients. Heat and stir over medium-low heat until sugar is dissolved.

Remove bread from pan. Poke holes in top of warm loaf with a fork and slowly brush with lemon glaze. Cool completely on a wire rack. Wrap and store overnight before slicing.

— From “Better Home and Gardens Baking” by Better Homes & Gardens (Better Homes & Gardens; October 2013)

Gooey Lemon Butter Cake

This is a great dessert for the time-pinched cook. Utilizing a boxed mix and a few other handy ingredients, you can whip this up in no time. It’s a Paula Deen recipe, so the butter content shouldn’t be surprising.


1 box lemon cake mix

1 large egg

8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, melted


1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, at room temperature

2 large eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/2 teaspoon lemon oil, or more to taste

1 tablespoon lemon zest

8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, melted

1 (16-ounce) box powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 13-by-9-inch baking pan with butter, oil or cooking spray.

For the cake: Place the cake mix, egg and melted butter in a large bowl and mix well using a large spoon, until well combined. Scrape batter into prepared pan and smooth out. (Batter is stiff and will need to be pushed around by hand.)

For the filling: In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or using a handheld mixer, beat the cream cheese at medium speed until smooth. Add the eggs and vanilla, lemon oil and lemon zest, and beat well. Add the melted butter and beat until combined. Slowly add the powdered sugar, 1/4 cup at a time, beating after each addition. Using a spatula, spread the filling over the cake mixture and bake for 40 to 50 minutes. You want the center to be a little gooey, so be careful not to overbake. Stick a toothpick in the center, and you should see a few wet crumbs stick to it.

— From “Paula Deen’s Southern Cooking Bible” by Paula Deen and Melissa Clark (Simon & Schuster; October 2011)


— The juice of one lemon packs in the flavor for only 12 calories and more than 35 percent of your daily needs for vitamin C.

— Lemons also contain fiber, B vitamins, magnesium, health-protecting flavonoids and the antioxidant limonene.

— Limonene is believed to have anti-cancer properties, but more research is needed.

— Food Network